What do the Beatles, Pussy Riot, and surfers have in common? The minds and hands of artists Tomas Vu and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The artist duo will premiere its grand-scale, seemingly outrageous, but politically charged and deeply personal installation, DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, at the Untitled art fair today.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the installation, literally surfing on activist-inspired boards in the ocean. Returning to Untitled, they'll shower the salty water off in a translucent plastic tank. The artists will also sell freshly screen-printed T-shirts with subversive text and images.
“When they’re getting on a surfboard, that’s part of the performance. When they pull the lever on a shower, that’s part of the performance. When they put on a T-shirt, that’s part of the performance,” Vu says.
Vu, a Yale-trained artist and professor with Tiravanija at Columbia University School of the Arts, explains the title of the work. “Democrats, Republicans. North, south, east, west. We’re all under the same sky. This is a dream, a fantasy. We have all different kinds of people coming together. We have one sky. Do we all dream? How are we so different?”
DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY is a tripartite installation that follows a specific circulation. When you enter Untitled, you’re greeted by gigantic wooden surfboards etched with the Beatles’ Revolver album lyrics on one side and images of futuristic landscapes on the other. “Why Revolver? It came out in 1966, 50 years ago. There are 14 boards for the 14 songs in the album. The images are ones that I’ve been working with for ten years. It’s the idea of the future landscape, man versus machine. We’re looking at a dark space in our political landscape,” Vu says.
But why surfboards? When Vu was 10 years old, the Vietnam War destroyed his homeland. Amid the fighting and bombings, the one place of refuge was China Beach, a pristine stretch of white sand that begins at Monkey Mountain and ends near Hoi An. “Americans would go here and surf after fighting. We lived right on the beach. We would run surfboards from my house to the beach as a business when I was a kid,” Vu says.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Vu has made more than a dozen surfboards for the installation. “It’s a romantic idea and a psychological one where China Beach was a place of refuge. When the war was around us, you went to this place. There is absolute peace there, calmness. It was just about surfing. When I think back about Vietnam, this is my defining moment,” Vu says.
After you walk around the wooden surfboards, each displayed like a sculpture in the round, wander in a bit farther and you’ll see the “Surf Shack,” where 3 Pussy Riot surfboards lean. Inside the shack, Columbia University MFA students frantically screen-print T-shirts. Visitors can grab a board, sign a waiver (“because you never know what can happen in the ocean,” Vu warns with a laugh), order a T-shirt, and ride up to half an hour on a board.
“On the boards are three female characters with bags over their heads in protest — activists," Vu explains. "Who are the members of Pussy Riot, and what do they represent? They went after Putin. They made a political statement. And they were artists.”
When you’re done surfing (and contemplating what you're surfing on), you can rinse off the salty water and gritty sand in a stainless-steel-framed shower tank. The installation’s shower is an invention by Tiravanija, a Thai performance-based artist. The idea was conceived last year at Untitled, when Vu and Tiravanija did another project. “We went to the back side of the festival and looked at the beach. Rirkit said that we should build a shower here. I laughed at him. I told him it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of.” But over time, the idea unfolded organically into an installation with complex and moving parts.
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Once you’re showered, you can come back inside, sign the board back in, and have a new, dry shirt to wear after your wet adventure. The shirts cost $20, just enough to sustain the business. Visitors can choose from a menu of text and images. There are seven types phrases you can select, including “Fear eats the soul, “All you need is dynamite,” “Up against the wall motherfuckers,” “Police the police,” and “Do we dream under the same sky.”
Vu explains, “One image is of Johnny Cash giving the finger to his audience. Sometimes images go with text, and sometimes they contradict the text. They are highly politicized in so many different ways depending on who’s gazing on it. In the political sphere, we’re frustrated and we’re lashing out. We’re saying, 'Let’s burn down the system.'”
The artists hope those who experience the installation question the cultural climate around them. “I mean, how the hell did we lose the election?" Vu exclaims. "As artists nowadays, we have to question what just happened here. What is happening? Is there a takeaway to all this madness and insanity? Who are we? If you’re questioning, you’re aware. You have to be implicated. You can’t say 'I don’t know' anymore.”
DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY
2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, November 30, through Saturday, December 3, at Untitled, Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach. Admission costs $30 for adults and $20 for Miami Beach residents, students, and seniors. Visit art-untitled.com.